Superheroes in the Victorian era: Period drama meets science fiction

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Kyla Brewer / TV Media
Laura Donnelly stars in "The Nevers"

Laura Donnelly stars in "The Nevers"

As television genres go, two of the most popular ones as of late are science fiction and period drama. While they may seem like an odd pairing, a new series combines elements of both, and it has TV fans talking.

In Victorian London in 1896, a supernatural event leaves some people, many of them women, with unusual abilities in the premiere of "The Nevers," airing Sunday, April 11, on HBO. Laura Donnelly ("Outlander") leads the ensemble cast as "quick-fisted" widow Amalia True, who works alongside young inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly, "Kissing Candice," 2017) to protect their fellow gifted "orphans."

As the story unfolds, viewers will meet a variety of characters with powers — some of them amazing and some disturbing. All the while, there are those who rail against such people, who are referred to as "touched." True and Adair become champions for their kind and fight against those who would rather they didn't exist.

Created by Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), "The Nevers" has been in the works for a few years. HBO faced some stiff competition from other media giants like Netflix, who also wanted to nab the rights to the project, but came out on top and gave the show a straight-to-series order in 2018. When the project was announced in July of that year, HBO executive Casey Bloys expressed his excitement about the series.

"We look forward to meeting the strange, multifaceted characters of 'The Nevers,' to learn their stories, see them in action and share them with our viewers," Bloys said in a statement at the time.

However, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for the show. Whedon had originally been tapped to write and direct, among other things, but he has since left the project. He has been the subject of much criticism lately as a number of stars have come forward with allegations of misconduct on sets, notably actors Ray Fisher ("Justice League," 2017) and Charisma Carpenter ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"). While Whedon was the subject of an investigation by WarnerMedia (HBO's parent company) stemming from Fisher's allegations, the writer cited other reasons for leaving "The Nevers" in an official statement.

"I realize that the level of the commitment required moving forward, combined with the physical challenges of making such a huge show during a global pandemic, is more than I can handle without the work beginning to suffer," Whedon said, according to Variety, when HBO announced his departure in November 2020.

Luckily, "The Nevers" landed in the very capable hands of screenwriter Philippa Goslett ("Little Ashes," 2008), who will serve as the new showrunner and an executive producer. This will be her first gig as a showrunner, but she has made a name for herself, thanks to her work on many other projects, including "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" (2017) and "Mary Magdalene" (2018). Goslett now finds herself at the helm of one of TV's most anticipated new series, one poised to captivate viewers with its feminist message and decidedly steampunk vibe — also thanks to its Victorian-era period aesthetic and supernatural fantasy plot.

Elizabeth Berrington as seen in "The Nevers"

Elizabeth Berrington as seen in "The Nevers"

"The Nevers" features a diverse cast of characters striving to bring the story to light. In addition to True and Adair, the allies of the so-called "touched" include rich spinster Lavinia Bidlow, played by Olivia Williams ("Dollhouse"). She runs The Orphanage where many of the main characters reside. Tom Riley ("Da Vinci's Demons") appears as Lavinia's geeky brother, Augie. Zackary Momoh ("Seven Seconds") portrays West Indian physician Dr. Horatio Cousens.

Other characters include James Norton ("Happy Valley") as Hugo Swann, a pansexual young aristocrat who runs a posh secret club; Pip Torrens ("The Crown") as Lord Massen, a former military man who's skeptical of people with powers; Nick Frost ("Hot Fuzz," 2007) as Declan Orrun, aka The Beggar King, a low-level criminal kingpin; English actor Ben Chaplin ("Snowden," 2016) as Det. Frank Mundi, a policeman with strong morals and a penchant for heavy drinking; and Eleanor Tomlison ("Poldark") as failed singer Mary Brighton.

Elsewhere in the cast of leading characters, Amy Manson ("Once Upon a Time") plays Maladie, the dangerous and unstable leader of a band of renegades, while Rochelle Neil ("Terminator: Dark Fate" (2019) stars as Annie Carbey, aka Bonfire, a criminal with the ability to control fire. Dennis O'Hare ("True Blood") rounds out the main cast as brutal American surgeon Dr. Edmund Hague.

Recurring cast members include Elizabeth Berrington ("Stella") as Lucy, Kiran Sonia Sawar ("Murdered by My Father") as Harriet and Ella Smith ("Hoff the Record") as Desirée.

Although "The Nevers" started filming before the global spread of COVID-19, it was not unscathed by the pandemic. Originally commissioned for 10 episodes, just five had been shot before the pandemic shut things down. Filming resumed in the fall and wrapped in October, but HBO has only six episodes ready to go at this time. According to, Goslett is working on more episodes, but it is not known how many there will be or when they will be released.

For now, viewers will have to be satisfied with the first six episodes of the science-fiction period drama. Watch as True and Adair use their newfound powers to fight for the new underclass in "The Nevers," premiering Sunday, April 11, on HBO.